Saturday, August 28, 2010

Cadair Idris

Tomorrow we set out for a country where ‘w’ is considered a vowel, and where sheep outnumber humans four to one. Our plan involves, among other things, mountain-biking near Machynlleth, wild camping on the shores of Llyn Cau, and climbing Cadair Idris by the Minffordd route.

Cadair Idris literally translates as ‘the chair of Idris’. Idris is a giant of Welsh mythology – a stargazer, philosopher and poet. In olden days, bards would sleep on Cadair Idris in the hope of poetic inspiration. And legend has it that anyone who spends the night on the mountain will either die in the night, or go insane, or wake up as a bard.

It will be interesting to see what lies in store for us.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Pollination

It’s August, and the annual pageant of pollination is being played out at Kew Gardens.

While some plants rely on insects for fertilisation, others see them as dinner. The bee and the housefly have been trapped respectively by a Cape Sundew and a Venus Flytrap.

Clearly, the fly did not heed the warning.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Walking Boots

All my life, at least until I entered college, my parents took care of all my expenses. In college I managed to support myself for the most part by doing internships and giving tuitions. After college, for a year, I had a research stipend which allowed me to live comfortably if not luxuriously.

All my life, I have never owned more than three pairs of covered shoes at a time: formal shoes, trainers and football boots. I have trekked in the Himalayas in trainers, and maintained – not without a touch of disdain – that only people who were not surefooted enough needed to buy specialized walking boots.

And now, for climbing a puny 2,930 ft mountain in Wales, I bought myself a pair of walking boots.

This is what happens when you are gainfully employed.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

10 Turner House

While going through some old photos, I found these two pictures of my hostel room where I spent five very colourful years of my life.

The flat where I stay now, 10 Turner House, is much fancier than my hostel room, but because I stay with college friends, life here is proving to be not all that different from hostel life. Same communal spirit, same mess.

Last week one of our indoor football sessions proved fatal for a wooden giraffe that had hitherto adorned the living room: a stray kick snapped its slender neck. And as I made breakfast this morning, I was witness to the amusing sight of Rahul Saha searching for the TV remote. “Dammit, I can’t find the remote. *looks under the sofa* But I have found a packet of biscuits.”

In other news, I am trying to figure out whether retired corporate lawyers are genuinely relieved to have reached the end of their careers, or whether they just like to scare starry-eyed novices. Last week an ex-partner of a law firm told me, “I’ve been a solicitor for 39 years. You get less for murder.”

Thursday, August 12, 2010

City Daily Photo

The week before I left for London was such a whirlwind that I did not have time to say goodbye to Calcutta in the way I would have liked. The idea was to post one photo of the city every day for a week, along with explanatory notes or background.

A wonderful photoblog called Mumbai Paused, a tribute to another great city, inspired my idea. I think Calcutta too deserves such a photoblog, one which portrays the best and worst of the city, and portrays it with kindness, understanding and humour. It need not be updated daily, and if the project is too demanding for a single person, it could be run by a small team; four people each posting just three photos a month would give us a site that was updated thrice a week. If someone reads this post and starts a photoblog about their city, nothing would give me greater pleasure.

As for London, the London Nature Photo Blog is an excellent niche blog of this sort, and London Daily Photo is general and has a lengthy City Daily Photo blogroll, but I still haven’t found one for this city which is as good as Mumbai Paused.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

London

Just before landing, I set my camera’s default white balance to Cloudy. I think that is a reasonably safe assumption to make.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Writing About Food

The editorial board of our college magazine used to do restaurant reviews for every issue – a flimsy pretext for going out and gorging at various food joints of the city. When we sat down to write our first restaurant review – about a Chinese restaurant called Eau Chew on Ganesh Chandra Avenue – none of us had any prior experience at writing about food.

It did not take us long to realize that describing food was not as easy as we thought. One by one we shrank away and swore we had not skill at that. And while the rest of us were discovering that we were hopeless at describing food, Anuj made an equally important discovery: that he was bloody good at it. From then on, by unspoken agreement, writing restaurant reviews became his exclusive prerogative.

It is true that Anuj’s grammar often makes me want to claw my eyes out. His deliberate distortions of spelling call to mind the worst excesses of the French Revolution, and his approach to punctuation is completely arbitrary: he omits semi-colons and misplaces apostrophes with gay abandon. But even his harshest critics cannot deny that when it comes to writing about food, the man has few equals.

We have reviewed many eateries in our time. Gradually, the concept of the restaurant review even took more complex forms. For Tea or Coffee, we visited our favourite tea bar and our favourite coffee shop, and pitted them against each other. Sweet Retreat was a city-wide search for that elusive ideal, the perfect sandesh. And Piggy’s Day Out, which featured in our farewell issue, was a day-long five-course meal at five different restaurants: Read on to learn how you too can stop healthy living and be a pig.

For some reason, we never got round to reviewing the divine suta kebab at Adam’s on Phears Lane. This tiny shop tucked away in an obscure alley in North Calcutta makes kebabs with beef so tender that it has to be tied onto the skewer with string, or else it will disintegrate while being roasted.

I have taken many food-lovers to Adam’s, for it is almost impossible to find it without a guide. The first time they taste the kebab is always special. I watch tensely for the change of expression, the blissful smile; I could not be more tense if it were my cooking that was on trial.

Last Friday was Priyanka’s first visit to Adam’s. She took the plate with the reverence which it deserves, inhaled, and put the first spoonful into her mouth. And she said: “Mm. It tastes like beef-flavoured butter.” And my first thought was: this is a phrase that Anuj would have been proud of.